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Front Hitch Beats the Boat Ramp

Anyone who tows with a truck camper rig must see Roger Odahl’s boat ramp solution.  And get your truck camping bucket list out.  Roger reveals his favorite destinations.

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Gordon’s great grandmother shared a funny story about sending her husband off to buy a dinner jacket for a party in the 1930s.  He disappeared for hours, finally returning without a dinner jacket.

“Joe Borden,” she said sternly, “Where’s your dinner jacket?”

He replied, “I didn’t buy a dinner jacket, but I bought a boat!”

Gordon’s great grandmother wasn’t pleased at the time, but certainly laughed about it decades later.  Over a decade after her passing, we still laugh about that story.

Roger Odahl’s story immediately reminded me of Gordon’s great grandmother’s story, and the now humorous stories that followed about their boat.  I say “now humorous” because I’m sure Roger’s experiences, like Gordon’s great grandparents, were not all funny at the time.

Owning anything complex, be it a truck, camper, or boat, isn’t always roses.  It’s a learning experience.  In fact, that’s half the reason this magazine exists; so we can learn from one another’s experiences, and share our sometimes common, and often unique stories.

Through this sharing we get to more of the good stuff and avoid more of the stories that are not funny now, and quite funny later.  Of course funny is the other half of what this magazine is about, so please keep having those experiences!

Thank you to Roger for sharing your ideas and recommending some destinations that are already on our truck camping bucket list.  For starters, a truck camper on the Bonneville Salt Flats must happen.

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Above: Elaine and Roger Odahl picking up their Eagle Cap 950

TCM: How did you end up with a truck camper?

Roger: In the late 1990s, we rented a Class C motorhome and spent a week cruising Yellowstone National Park and Jackson Hole.  From that experience, we knew a RV was the way for us travel.

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Above: Their Kwik Kamp Kanopy.  Roger had a GMC Sonoma which he added a lumber rack to the rear seven foot bed.  He designed a tent with an A-frame roof and a raised bed platform inside.  All their gear stored under the queen bed platform.

When I researched what type of RV we wanted, a slide-in camper looked more convenient and easier to maneuver.  Plus, the amenities available on modern truck campers would make our traveling much more comfortable.

Researching the different brands and floor plans we decided that a slide-out would be handy.  We also decided that a dual rear wheel truck was best, and we didn’t want a camper that extended too far past the rear tailgate.

Right about then I found a 2004 Eagle Cap 950 on Craigslist three hours away.  The previous owner had purchased it new and only used it three times, never using the bath, shower, or oven.

On the way to look at it, I called a friend from Trailer Life to get his opinion on the Eagle Cap brand.  He was impressed with the Eagle Cap campers he had seen, and their build quality.  I was able to buy the camper for the price I wanted, making us happy campers.

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Above: Roadmaster Sway Bar on Roger’s 2008 Dodge Ram 3500

TCM: That was a very lucky find.  Have you made any modifications to your truck?

Roger: Driving it home we could feel sway, especially on the highway and around curves.  The sway was concerning because the camper was empty and I knew we would be adding several hundred pounds of food, clothing, and gear.

I live in Vancouver, Washington, not too far from Roadmaster’s manufacturing facility.  I went to their factory and, in less than three hours, they installed a Roadmaster sway bar on my truck.  That cut down the sway by at least 95%.

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Above: Another suspension enhancement product on Roger’s truck is the Roadmaster steering stabilizer

I also had them install a Roadmaster steering stabilizer.  It’s essentially a shock absorber for your steering system.  That product brings the steering back to center quickly.

Finally, we needed to do something about the jarring pot holes and highway expansion joints.  They were making us wince, especially in California.  To fix that problem, I ordered a set of SuperSprings and had them installed.  SuperSprings are a permanent installation, and they are adjustable.

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Above: SuperSprings were added to help with the jarring pot holes and highway expansion joints

The SuperSprings made a big difference.  The ride is much smoother.  To make the ride even better, I took my truck back and had the SuperSprings adjusted down a notch.  I also added new Bilstein shock absorbers after 50,000 miles.  The rig rides and tows really well now.

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Above: Roger’s first sailboat, a Snark

TCM: Upgrading our shocks is something we want to look into for our rig as well.  How did you get into sailing?

Roger: In the early 1990s I bought a two-person Snark sailboat on a whim.  I had the Snark for a couple years, and then did the horrible thing of going the Portland Boat Show.  There I saw a Gig Harbor sailboat.  It was classy, and a little bigger.

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Above: Roger’s second sailboat, a Gig Harbor

After purchasing the Gig Harbor, I waited until May and went to Vancouver Lake.  On that first day, a gust came up and flattened it, breaking the mast.  I took the boat back to Gig Harbor, and they fixed it.  That was a learning experience.

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Above: Roger’s current sailboat, a Montgomery 15 that is called Venga Viento which means, Come Wind

I had those two sailboats for awhile before stepping up to a Montgomery 15.  The Montgomery 15 has more ropes, two sails, and offers a place to sleep and cook.  It’s also towable behind the truck camper rig.

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Above: View from Roger’s sailboat, Yale Reservoir, Mt. St. Helens, Washington

TCM: Where do you go sailing?

Roger: I’ve sailed on the Columbia River, which is exciting and challenging with lots of wind.  I’m a casual sailer.  No racing, just relaxing.  I sail on rivers and lakes in the Northwest.

Originally I was going out every other weekend.  I’d go on day sailing trips to Timothy Lake by Mount Hood, which is one of my favorites.  Now I go out six to eight times a year.

I have a strong passion for sailing because I like the involvement with the boat and the feeling of the wind in the sails. It also serves as a fishing boat early in the morning and, when the wind kicks up in the afternoon, the fun really begins.

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Above: Towing the Montgomery 15 behind the Eagle Cap 950

TCM: Is it difficult to tow a sailboat behind a truck camper?

Roger: I had no towing experience before starting with my sailboats.  I practiced backing up in school parking lots.  Then I learned how to back down boat ramps.  My advice is to practice a lot.  I have seen many people who don’t know what they’re doing.

I have a window on my camper’s back door allowing me to see straight through the camper when driving.  I can see the boat mast from this view.  I cannot see the boat from the side mirrors.  Being able to see through the camper helps a lot.  Otherwise I would need a backup camera.

Backing down boat ramps can be difficult with a loaded truck camper.  I had a hard time seeing behind me with the camper on the truck.   Then I went crabbing in Tillamook, Oregon and had my Zodiac boat.  I could not see the boat backing down the ramp.  It wasn’t working out.

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Above: Roger’s front hitch solution – pushing the boat down the boat ramp

That’s why I went to a front hitch solution.  On Flathead Lake in Montana I saw an old Ford truck in the marina pushing boats in and out of the water.  I thought that approach would work for me.  Now I can hook-up and push the boat down the ramp.  Putting the front hitch on has made all the difference in the world.

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Above: Zodiac boat

TCM: It sure looks easier.  Tell us about your Zodiac boat.

Roger: My Zodiac is a ten foot inflatable raft.  Some people who have sailboats use a Zodiak as a tender.  As an inflatable it can be rolled up, put in a bag, and carried with you.  To me that’s a lot of effort since I have an open trailer.

I have a four-horsepower motor for the Zodiac, which handles it quite well.  I am not into speed.  I also set up a battery in front of the boat.  That helps with trolling.  The Zodiac is very handy for trout fishing and crabbing.

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Above: Staying in a friend’s driveway in Sedona, Arizona

TCM: Other than towing your boats, what else do you do with your truck camper rig?

Roger: It’s fun to visit friends and family with a truck camper rig.  My brother lives in Fresno.  He has a grassy side strip.  We back in, plug in to 15-amps, hook up to water, and stay there for a couple nights.

We’ve also stayed at my son’s house.  He has a steep driveway so we park out on the street and run a long cord and a water hose to the house.  That’s worked out, too.

We prefer to stay in our own space.  We don’t have to upset their lifestyle because we have our camper.  Plus, it’s more comfortable.  Staying a night or two in a friend’s driveway is convenient.

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Above: Truck campers are a perfect fit for short driveways

Back in 1980s my aunt and uncle came to visit.  They lived in Fresno, and came in their truck camper.  We insisted they stay inside, but they stayed out in their camper.  My aunt and uncle traveled in their truck camper and we always felt that was neat.  They put the bug in us.

My most favorite thing is to have my bicycle on every trip. I just love to explore new areas of small towns or riding on rails-to-trails pathways. And, of course, chasing down the morning newspaper.

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Above: Bicycling on the Banks-Vernonia 21-mile pathway

A trail I like in Oregon is the Banks-Vernonia 21-mile pathway, and a good place to stay is Stubb Stewart State Park. It’s the middle portion of the trail.

In addition to bicycling, I enjoy photography. With a digital camera it’s just so easy to take as many pictures as you want and pick out the good ones later.

TCM: I keep a folding bike in the truck and love going biking.  Gordon is thinking about getting one too.  Have you modified your camper?

Roger: We added a backrest board in the bedroom so we can actually sit in a comfortable position to read.

We also added new 25-watt reading lamps that are electric as well as Jobe Gorilla Lamps for backup when we don’t have plug-in power.  We also added Jobe lamps over both dinette seats. The overhead fluorescent light is just too bright.  I also recently changed the bathroom, stove, sink, and bedroom bulbs to LED.

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Above: A Jobe Gorilla Lamp on top of the valence in the dinette, the audio speakers are from his Mini Cooper S

The Jobe Gorilla Lamps are bendable.  Originally, I found them at REI.  They have several different lighting stages; low, medium, high, flashing red, and steady red.  The feet are magnetic.

I have four of them.  I’ll attach them to the curtains and the shelf in the overcab.  I have a 4-inch by 4-inch metal plate, and the metal feet attach to that plate.  We use them when we’re not plugged into shore power.  They are handy because they are so bendable and flexible.  They cost about $30 each.  They are LED and work off three AAA batteries.

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Above: The Wooden Boat Show in Port Townsend

TCM: Where have you been with your truck camper that you would recommend to other truck campers?

Roger: The annual Wooden Boat Show in Port Townsend.  There is a great campground right in town, but usually it has to be reserved a year in advance. A good place to stay is at the fairgrounds with hook-ups and bus service into town throughout the day.

The Lodi Wine festival is fun.  In 2011, we had to take the boring I-5 route. Leaving Ashland about 11:00am, we noticed traffic pulling over on the side of the freeway.Signs were posted that a heavy snowstorm was going to close the highway after 3:00pm and that you had to have chains to cross the Siskiyous. I did not want to turn around and wait out the storm.

We kept driving, passing hundreds of vehicles off to the side, finally reaching the last turn-around spot.  A California transportation worker looked at us and I explained I was in four-high and equipped with mud and snow tires.  He smiled at us and said, “Yer good” and waved us on through.  Four hours later we made it to Lodi.

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Above: The beauty of Palm Springs, California

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Above: Orange Grove RV Park near Bakersfield on the way to Joshua Tree NP/Palm Springs

The Sky Way Tram is a lot of fun in Palm Springs.  We found a terrific RV park in Palm Desert, with a fantastic pool.

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Above: Joshua Tree National Park, California – watch out for the Cholla cactus (above left)

Joshua Tree is a great National Park to explore. Just watch the Cholla cactus.  There are signs that say don’t get near them.  Birds land on top and stay inside them, but don’t be fooled.  The Cholla will impale into your fingers if you get too close.  I saw a guy take a Letherman’s tool to remove cactus thorns from his girlfriend’s fingers.

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Above: Elaine and Roger at Zabrinsky Point, Death Valley National Park, California

If you’re in the Joshua Tree area, continue on to Death Valley National Park and explore Furnace Creek Inn, Scotty’s Castle, Devil’s Rockpile, and the vast desert landscape.

When leaving this area, a great highway to take north is 395. It parallels the east side of the Sierra Nevadas and is a must see.

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Above: Anchor Bay Campground, California

Another great drive is Highway One along the California coast.  Our goal was to take it to San Diego, but only made it to the Monterey area.  We stayed in Eureka.  Don’t pass up the Samoa Cookhouse and Fort Bragg.  The train ride through the Redwoods is also fun.  I recommend Anchor Bay as a great campground to watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

At Bodega Bay, we experienced fifty mile per hour winds throughout the day.  Try not to park next to a sand dune or your rig will get blasted. We’ll tackle the other portion of Highway One, taking it north from San Diego, on a future road trip.

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Above: Elaine in the Great Salt Lake, Utah

I also highly recommend the state of Utah.  We went to Bonneville Salt Flats.  In August they have driving events, and can race different types of vehicles on the salt flats. I was unable to test the speed of our truck camper due to water covering the flats.  When we were there, the water was a foot deep from rain.

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Above: Roger and Elaine’s Eagle Cap at the Bonneville Salt Flats

Salt Lake City is worth at least a three day stay. There is a KOA right in the city with a light rail train to take you into the city to tour all the Mormon facilities.

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Above: Roger making friends at Homestead Resort

When leaving Salt Lake, don’t pass up the Homestead Crater. You can soak, swim, snorkel, and scuba dive in 95 degree water inside a bee hive-shaped tufa rock formed by the hot springs within.

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From there it’s on to the national parks of Arches in Moab, Canyonlands, Bryce (pictured above), and Zion.

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Above: Renting a quad for the day at Bryce Canyon, Utah

Across the street and down the road from Bryce Canyon they have quads for rent.  In Moab they wanted $425 a day for a Polaris.  I couldn’t see that.  At Bryce it was $55 an hour, and I got to take a tour out.  You could easily get lost if you go out by yourself.  There are three or four others on the tour.  Bryce has pathways throughout.  It’s fun be on the quad and take trails.

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Above: Lemmon’s Petrified Wood Park on the North Dakota/South Dakota border

Another area to recommend is South Dakota. On Highway 12 is the town of Lemmon, right on the border of North Dakota and South Dakota. It’s worth the stop for the most massive display of Petrified Wood one would want to see. It was a gateway to the West back in the 1800s.

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Above: Roger and Elaine at Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota

From there, head south to the Black Hills/Rapid City area. Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park, Deadwood, and Sturgis are very worthwhile areas.

TCM: What are your truck camping plans for the future?

Roger: This month we’ll head to Lincoln City for Chinook Winds’ twentieth anniversary and their huge firework display on the beach.  Our plan is to head north up Highway 101 along the Oregon and Washington coasts.  We’ll go up around the Olympic Forest stopping in Sol Duc for the relaxing hot springs pool.  We will also go to Port Angeles, Sequim, and Port Townsend for trails to bike on.

In July we’ll be heading to Colorado for the tenth anniversary NATCOA Rally in Colorado Springs. Riding the tram to the top of Pikes Peak is on the agenda.  We haven’t been to the state of Colorado and will spend some time exploring.

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Above: The NATCOA group at the rally in Glacier National Park

TCM: Tell us about your participation with the North American Truck Camper Owners Association (NATCOA).

Roger: NATCOA has numerous rallies around the country.  It’s nice to get together with people of like minds.  In 2011 we went on the Fall Colors Caravan, a three day trip hosted by Rich and Joanne Bain.  He gets a lot of support and gives away free prizes, which is fun.

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Above: The Red Bus tour, Logan Pass, and a fun potluck at the NATCOA rally in Glacier

We also went to the NATCOA rally at Glacier.  We were already going to South Dakota to visit my wife’s cousin who we had not seen in fifty years.  There must have been thirty camper rigs at that rally.  Just getting to talk with different truck camper owners makes it fun.  Rich and Joanne Bain are great at putting on the events.

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Above: Devils Tower, Wyoming – it’s great to be traveling in a truck camper

TCM: We certainly support NATCOA and list their rallies in our Shows and Rallies section.  Thank you for adding a few more truck camping destinations to our bucket list.  Now Gordon wants to take our truck camper on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Roger: You’re welcome.  We are excited to plan more road trips and look forward to visiting the Midwest, South, and East Coast.  Now that we are both redirected (retired), we find the truck camper lifestyle fills our need and quest for traveling.  We have talked about traveling for twenty five years, and settled on a truck camper.  It’s made so much sense.  We also enjoy the camaraderie among truck camper owners.

Rig Information
Truck: 2008 Dodge Ram 3500, Quad Cab, Long Bed, Dual Rear Wheel, 4×4, Diesel
Camper: 2004 Eagle Cap 950
Tie-Downs and Turnbuckles: Torklift tie downs with Fast Guns
Suspension: Roadmaster Sway bar, Super Springs, Curt front receiver hitch
Gear: Bike rack which fits both front or rear receiver hitch

Truck Camper Information
northstar-truck-campers

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